Loeb starts season with Monte Carlo win

Monaco: Citroen`s Sebastien Loeb started his hunt for a ninth successive world championship with a commanding victory in the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

The Frenchman beat Spaniard Dani Sordo, in a Mini, by two minutes and 45.5 seconds to celebrate his sixth career victory in the 80th edition of the oldest and most glamorous event on the calendar.

The win was also the 68th of his career.

"It`s always a great moment to start the season like this especially in front of so many fans," Loeb, who gained an extra three points after he was fastest on Sunday`s 5.16km `power stage`, told World Rally Radio.

"Full points in the first race is incredible and for sure it`s the perfect start. But Monte-Carlo is my rally and for the others we will have to see," added the champion whose co-driver Daniel Elena is from the principality.

Sordo`s second place in the Mediterranean sunshine was Mini`s best result in Monte Carlo, which rejoined the world championship this year after a three-year absence, since Finland`s Rauno Aaltonen won in 1967.

"The only problem was on the second stage of the rally, we hit a bridge, we were lucky and we stayed. After that we did an incredible choice of tyres," said the Spaniard.

Norway`s Petter Solberg, whose Finnish team mate Jari-Matti Latvala crashed out on day one, finished third on his return to the Ford team after an absence of more than 10 years.

However the 2003 champion also collected a reprimand, 1,400 euro ($1,800) fine and a suspended ban for the next rally in Sweden after being caught speeding on a road section while heading to Monaco Saturday evening.

"This is the best start to a WRC season I`ve ever had," said Solberg.

"I love the car. It is really fast. It suits my driving style very well. I`ve been waiting for a long time to get into a situation like this."

Finland`s Mikko Hirvonen, last year`s overall runner-up with Ford, finished fourth on his Citroen debut while Russian Evgeny Novikov equalled his best championship finish in fifth in a Ford.

The 21-year-old Russian also gained an extra point for finishing third in the power stage.

Frenchman Francois Delecour, a rally veteran, was sixth overall despite handing over his Ford to co-driver Dominique Savignoni for the final stage as a gesture to mark his friend`s last race before retirement.

The rally was run over five days, a decision that Loeb criticised afterwards.

"I was not a fan, it`s not for me. I think it`s a bit long. I think it`s a bit long for everybody: for the journalists, the drivers and I`m not sure it brings more media for the two extra days," he said. "For the private drivers, it`s also more complicated, I`m not a fan of that."

Bureau Report

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